The Twelve Flicks of Christmas

A ben’s TEN Holiday Series

Get the Scoop You Won’t Find Anywhere Else on 12 Christmas Movies Old and New
[See complete list of reviews]

The Ref (1994)
Directed by Ted Demme
Rated R
Starring: Dennis Leary, Kevin Spacey, Judy Davis

Review by Jeff Koch

Conventional Synopsis:

It’s Christmas Eve, and the feuding Caroline and Lloyd (Judy Davis and Kevin Spacey) are teetering on the edge of divorce and dreading another Christmas spent with family. To add to their troubles, they are taken hostage by Gus (Dennis Leary), a burglar trying to avoid capture before he can skip town. Holed up in the family home with everyone seeking a way out, this odd grouping will find that they all need each other to get what they ultimately want.

Beneath the Surface 

Everything about this movie is just a little flat. It’s a comedy that isn’t all that funny, and the best moments of the movie are the ones that carry some dramatic heft…but those only occur because of Kevin Spacey, playing well beneath his acting chops years before we all knew how good he actually was. The only truly memorable scene is when he is having a soul-bearing conversation with his wife in front of his entire family (and Gus). Not good for a movie that is supposed to be funny. And because it is a comedy, that scene isn’t given the treatment it deserves, and we’re quickly removed from it by the tone shifting back to a more light, humorous one (or at least an attempt at it).

The performances are all good to very good (particularly Spacey’s, as mentioned above), but Leary, while a very funny performer, is ill-suited to play a character that garners any sympathy. He is his usual caustic self, which doesn’t play well in the tender parts, and is wasted in the comedic parts. It feels like he is stuck in-between what he really wants to do (and is capable of; for an R-Rated movie, we sure don’t get the R-Rated Leary) and what the movie sort of wants him to do. What we’re left with is disappointment on both ends.

The emotional pay-off of the movie is supposed to be the reunion of Caroline and Lloyd (and their estranged son), but it happens at the expense of Lloyd’s (admittedly horrible) mother, brother, and brother’s wife. Any message of familial importance is undercut by Lloyd’s niece Mary tying up her Grandma and gagging her with duct tape. And Gus’s only motivation is escape; while he serves as a sort of catalyst for Caroline and Lloyd, he gets no emotional resolution himself, and thus is essentially nothing more than a two-dimensional character.

Comedies can hold holiday truths–laughing is as sure an entry point into the heart and the soul as any other. Unfortunately, this movie holds very little in the way of laughs or any deeper truths.


Cocoa Factor = 6 out of 10
How good is this one for cozying up with a fire burning, a hot beverage of your choice, and your new Snuggy?

Magicality = 5 out of 10
How well does this one transport you back to the timeless wonderment beyond rationality when Christmas enveloped you in magic? AKA “The Santa Clause factor.”

A Date with Grandma and Aunt Bernice = 7 out of 10
How appropriate/awkward is this one to watch with relatives of all ages? Will hot kissing scenes or male rear nudity spoil the mood?

Tiny Tim’s Big Truths = 5 out of 10
From the mouths of babes come life’s most profound lessons. At the heart of this flick, how authentic, heartfelt and lasting is the message? Does it transcend Xmas clichés and ring bells?

Overall = 6.5 out of 10


About bensten

Teacher, writer, blogger and spiritual practitioner. Managing editor of

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